Repairing Broken Trust on a Team
I often hear similar reasons from leadership teams from very different organizations for why they can’t accomplish the work they’ve set out to do together:
1. I can’t trust “so and so.”
And when I ask, “Well, did you talk to “so and so” about the issue you’re having with them?”
I always get the same answer:
2. “I didn’t have time to talk to them.”
What’s wrong with this picture?
We talk about the need to “earn” trust and “build” trust, but by that we typically mean, “You need to behave in a way that I perceive is in my own best interest, and when you act differently, I won’t trust you. And then to regain my trust, you need to prove to me that you are worthy of it.”
In other words, trust is the onus of the other person.
To exacerbate that dynamic, we don’t take the time to clarify our fears, assumptions and conclusions that have gotten stirred up by the other person. In most cases, we say we’re too busy to have the difficult conversation. So the mistrust builds. The person becomes one of “them” added to the list of those we can’t trust, and therefore, can’t collaborate with.
What’s challenging here is we feel justified in our lack of trust — goodness knows, the problems can’t be our fault! It has to be that Other Person, because, hey, look at what they did five years ago when we worked on that project together and it failed, and clearly it was their fault. How could anyone trust them?
This kind of dynamic is surprisingly common and very destructive to collaboration, not to mention the bottom line.
I propose we look at trust from a different perspective.
Instead of my needing you to behave in ways that I deem trustworthy, from which I can bestow my trust upon you, what if I view trust as a mutual act of co-creation that involves both of us trusting each others’ intent?
This approach creates a different type of dynamic altogether. We are not needing to prove to each other that we are worthy of the other person’s trust, we can simply notice when feelings of mistrust arise, and because we are each taking responsibility for creating trust, for essentially being a starting point for trust, we can then have a dialogue to clarify our assumptions and judgments that are getting in the way.
This sounds simple, and frankly it is. The hard part is not so much sitting down face-to-face to have the conversation. The hard part is letting go of needing to be right about whatever injustice or infraction we feel that person committed.
And of course conversations such as these require time — the one thing we feel we never have enough of. Investing time in building relationships is a healing balm for lack of trust. When we take the time to get to know people, as, well, people, it’s harder to assign blame. By getting to know them, we can also better understand why they behave the way they do, which builds mutual respect and empathy.
Typically our behaviors come from our childhood. Finding out more about the people we work with, their background and context, helps us better understand why they behave the way they do, which is often different from our approach, given our unique set of life experiences that dictate our behaviors.
If we can truly believe that everyone is doing the best they can with the level of awareness and experiences they possess, if we can bring caring and empathy for them as fallible human beings, we begin to humanize them, a crucial step towards building trust and creating healthy collaborative teams.
Where do you assign blame vs. trust? Where do you avoid having the difficult conversation with the excuse that you don’t have the time?
If you’d like to know more about teambuilding and collaboration, check out our upcoming Shared Mastery seminar November 4-8, 2013.
Laura Gates is a Culture Change Partner, Senior Executive Coach and Facilitator at Learning as Leadership, where she’s worked for 19 years.